Saturday, October 19, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #23 America East

(Warning: this post contains some teen-movie sex scenes and the occasional bared breast. If you're watching/reading at work, I'd recommend headphones and another window to click to when the boss walks by.)

A full 55.6% of the America East's current membership has never made a trip to the NCAA tournament. Six of last season's members' 16 all-time bids bolted when Boston University left for the Patriot League.

Puts the league in dire straits, right? Eh, maybe not so much.

There's a very good possibility that one of the AE's schools pops the cherry this season, and not just because those odds are so good. (Seriously, five of nine. As a comparison, the only SWAC school with no bids is Grambling.)

One of the AE's V-club has to replace one of the conference's top players, but still has the weapons to contend. Then, there's the school that returns a nearly all-junior starting lineup led by a serious Player of the Year candidate.

Finally, there's the contender that lost its NCAA virginity 10 years ago and has since turned into a raging slut, going back five times since 2003. Makes one wonder how those whores at Kentucky and Kansas have any self-respect left.

Okay, that whole metaphor made absolutely no sense, and was actually somewhat disturbing. With all apologies, let's move on before we start quantifying how many tournament wins equal a dirty Sanchez. (Answer: a lot fewer than UCLA has. They're seriously depraved in Cali.)

(All stats and rankings via unless otherwise noted.)

1. Hartford

--The Hawks have long been the girl in the teen movies who says "I'm not ready yet." Even when the school was producing a top-10 NBA draft pick, it still never got past holding hands (a .500 season).

Congrats, Hartford fans, you've been cheering for early Reese Witherspoon all these years. Remember, in Cruel Intentions, she was a first-round talent herself. (Never mind that she co-starred in this film with one of my personal first-ballot Hall of Famers, the lovely Ms. Gellar. Damn, I miss her as a brunette.)


Sorry, where were we?

Ah, yes, Hartford basketball. So what's different with the Hawks this year? We'll start with the continued development of All-AE forward Mark Nwakamma. He took well to first-option status last season, putting up nearly 15 PPG along with 5.5 rebounds, shooting 47% from the floor. Even with no other double-figure scorers on the team, Nwakamma also put up a team-leading 20.2 A%. His 21.7 TO% could use some improvement, though. If the team had shot better than 40% around him, Nwakamma could have stuffed a box score just as well as do-everything performers like Tommy Brenton of Stony Brook and Brian Voelkel of Vermont, except as a better scorer.

Speaking of the complementary scorers, junior guard Yolonzo Moore improved as a shooter from his first season on campus, classmate Wes Cole stayed steady (which is not to say good, but potential is there) and sophomore Evan Cooper debuted with a 49.1 eFG%, just fractions of a point behind Nwakamma.

The biggest struggler was 6'7", 235-pound forward Nate Sikma. The son of ex-Milwaukee Buck Jack Sikma looked like a potential stud in his freshman year, but he backslid to 35.9% from the floor and 29.5% from three as a sophomore. A better stroke from him will make this group a good top five this year and downright dangerous in 2014-15. All except Cooper are juniors this season.

The Hawks badly needed size last year, and they may have some now. Australian freshman Dougal Weir (6'9", 250) should see spot minutes at least. East Carolina transfer Yasin Kolo (6'10", 245) is still waiting on a medical waiver to allow him to play immediately. Nearly 500 pounds of upperclassman also returns in the form of senior Oren Faulk (5.1 B%) and junior Jamie Schneck (3.1/2.0 in 14 MPG). Faulk is the only scholarship senior on the roster.

Two more Aussies, junior Corban Wroe and sophomore Taylor Dyson, will also contribute. Defensive pest Wroe started all 31 games last year.

It sounds like a big task, improving both offensive efficiency and offensive rebounding, both of which ranked in the bottom 40 nationally last year. Still, with the infusion of size and better shooting from the backcourt, the Hawks have the ability to win this conference next year, if not this one.

2. Vermont

--Okay, so perhaps the intro was fairly harsh. The Vermont Catamounts, with their five NCAA tournament bids in 10 years and two victories, may not be complete sluts in the AE's teen movie. Perhaps the Cats are simply the misunderstood, worldly chick who always has advice for everyone else. Think Natasha Lyonne in American Pie.

On the court, Vermont is now where Hartford hopes to be next season: sporting a roster with a ton of seniors and a couple of underclassmen with upside. Of last season's 165 possible games started, 120 of those were made by this year's senior class.

Forward Brian Voelkel is this year's Tommy Brenton, a multi-talented Swiss Army knife of a player who seems indifferent to scoring, but loves to do everything else on the court. Voelkel put up a superb all-around line of 8.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game, but added only six PPG himself. He took only 132 shots all year. That equals an average week for the Russ Smiths and Marshall Hendersons of the world. (Unlike Henderson, though, Voelkel's usually sober enough three hours later to remember there was even a far as we know, at least.)

The others around Voelkel take care of the scoring so he doesn't have to. Clancy Rugg led the team in scoring, replacing the injured Luke Apfeld at midseason and never giving the spot back. In Rugg's 18 starts, he rattled off 15 double-figure scoring nights and three double-doubles. He and Voelkel are both strong All-AE candidates this year. The aforementioned Apfeld was expected to be an all-conference player in this space last year, and might have been so if not for the ankle injury in January. He's had three ACL surgeries in his career, so his minutes may be limited. Expect him to provide the punch off the bench.

Guards Candon Rusin and Sandro Carissimo will be counted on for the long ball. Rusin was a freshman sniper for Marist in 2009-10 (58.1 eFG%), but has regressed ever since. How he recaptures that form will determine a lot about the effectiveness of the Vermont offense. Carissimo is the nominal point guard, but he put up less than half the assists Voelkel did last year. He's the most prolific returning three-point shooter, though.

Sophomore Ethan O'Day started 30 games, and if Voelkel's not going to get interior buckets, O'Day may have to. O'Day's 51.8 eFG% was tops on the team. The other option--at least come January--is 6'10" Northeastern transfer Ryan Pierson, who put up 7.5/3.7 with 81% foul shooting as a freshman in 2010-11. Pierson broke a leg in July and is expected to be back at the start of the conference season.

It seems odd to say, but UV's offense is almost too balanced. Whether it's Rugg, Apfeld, Rusin or whoever, someone needs to become the reliable go-to option.

3. Stony Brook

--Okay, so who's the teen-movie doppelganger for the Stony Brook Seawolves? A program that has everything it needs to reach the Big Dance except to actually win that one game during Championship Week? This one would be a girl with everything you want: smokin' hot, biting sense of humor and a take-no-shit attitude wrapped around a heart of gold, one whose lack of action is absolutely inexplicable.

When I need all that, I call only one woman: Emma Stone.

The Seawolves are becoming one of the AE's flagship programs under coach Steve Pikiell. They've won at least 22 games and a regular-season title in three of the past four seasons after Pikiell only managed 20 wins in his first three seasons COMBINED.

Tommy Brenton's been mentioned multiple times already, but for good reason. Dude was only the AE Player of the Year last season. He ranked top-three in rebounding all four of his years and top-10 in assists in the past three, all without scoring more than 8.4 PPG in any campaign. Replacing that will be highly problematic.

SBU gets to build around the man who may keep the POY trophy in the Brook, however. Sophomore Jameel Warney led the AE in eFG%, was sixth in RPG, second in OR% and first in B%. He took the third-most shots on his team, though, a situation that will likely change without Brenton chipping away here and there.

Guards Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson combined for 40 points in SBU's first-ever postseason win, a first-round NIT game against UMass. Former PG Jackson will likely come off the ball in favor of sophomore Carson Puriefoy, who made things happen when he got enough minutes. He averaged 13 PPG in his six conference games of 20 minutes or more.

Four other players 6'7" or taller will team with Warney to give the Wolves major flexibility inside, led by senior Eric McAlister and junior Anthony Mayo. 6'10" sophomore Scott King (23-59, 39% from three) will stretch defenses. Backcourt depth will have to come from three redshirt freshmen.

4. Albany

--Last season, the Great Danes beat Washington to get on the map in December. Three months later, they staggered home with a 9-7 record in the AE, good for fifth place. That essentially made them the awkward, ungainly schmuck in the teen films who scores with the hot chick when no one's really sure why or how. As Exhibit A, we present the 1984 film Mischief, starring a young (and still hot) Kelly Preston:

A couple more thrusts and she'd have been eligible to join the NFL's concussion lawsuit. But, I digress.

Albany has to replace its top two scorers and four members of the 10-man rotation. Instead of building around the backcourt scoring of Mike Black and Jacob Iati, coach Will Brown may need to look inside.

Junior forward Sam Rowley and senior center John Puk were last season's top two rebounders. Rowley was particularly efficient, ranking fourth in the AE in OR%, second in DR% and, what the hell, throwing in a top-10 eFG% and TS% to boot. In February, he carded 19 and 15 with four dimes and five steals, but the Danes still lost to Maine. More lines like that will hopefully not lead to similar results this year.

More than 80% of UA's three-point makes are gone, so the onus falls on sophomore guard Peter Hooley, 5'9" senior D.J. Evans and juco product Anders Haas to replicate that production. Hooley had a nice six-game, 12-PPG run in late January and early February. For the season, he flashed some good versatility, carding a line of 8.0/3.4/3.1 over 26 MPG. He should be an All-AE dark horse pick.

Haas made 46% from deep at State College of Florida after coming over from Denmark. Yes, he's literally a Dane. Don't make a big thing out of it. Slasher Anthony Odunsi started his career at Utah, making four starts as a Ute. He took 69 field goals and 48 free throws, showing that he can certainly get to the rack.

Freshman Mike Rowley, Sam's little brother, averaged 23/11/6 for Knox Grammar School in Sydney, Australia last season. He may be the next best option for frontcourt scoring, since senior Luke Devlin can't be trusted to stay fully healthy. Devlin has steadily lost minutes since being a 7-and-7 man as a freshman.

5. New Hampshire

--Coach Bill Herrion's Wildcats have never been to the big-T Tournament, but they do have some decent experience returning. A trip to the dance would be a substantial surprise, but it could be done with just a little bit of help. Help like Emmanuelle Chriqui kindly offers this shmoe in 100 Girls before they both get some ink (and we ain't talkin' tats, either):

Last season, the Cats loved to pop threes, but were sadly quite terrible at making them (30.8%). Their top threat, senior Patrick Konan, returns, but as a 32% shooter himself, he needs help.

6'4" guard Matt Miller drained 45% of his deep looks for Division II Seton Hill (no, not Hall) two seasons ago, and he's now eligible to suit up for UNH. He's versatile enough to play either backcourt spot, depending on whether or not senior Jordon Bronner (3.9 PPG) involves himself in the offense.

Up front, look for improvement out of former Iona center Chris Pelcher. The 6'10" senior put up 9.1/6.3 last year in his first season at UNH, despite fighting with a shoulder injury for most of the conference schedule. If he's a primary option, he has an outside shot at All-AE honors.

Senior Scott Morris had three double-figure games in New Hampshire's final seven, but two goose eggs also came up in that span. If he's a consistent threat (59.0 eFG% last season), the Cats have a little bench scoring that they sorely needed last year. Freshman bigs Jacoby Armstrong (11 RPG in his senior season) and Williams Gabriel (winningest player in the history of Huntington Prep, even beyond Andrew Wiggins) should see immediate minutes alongside Pelcher or in relief.

6. Binghamton
--The Bearcats won 23 games in 2008-09 en route to reaching their only NCAA tournament. They've won a total of 26 in the four years since. That is one of the definitions of doing it wrong.

Another would be this scene from Wet Hot American Summer where Chris Meloni (aka bad-ass cop Elliott Stabler on Law and Order: SVU, here channeling his inner Randy "Macho Man" Savage) does some things to a refrigerator that will definitely get you thrown out of Sears. (Or so I've heard. From a friend. Yeah.)

Yes, that is a 6 instead of a 9 next to Binghamton, and yes, this is a program that has treaded water about as well as a man tied to an anchor (13-79 the last three years). What it returns, however, is an interesting pair of 6'4" Philly products who should help an anemic offense.

Junior Robert Mansell redshirted with a torn ACL last season, but he was a 14-PPG man in 2011-12. In his absence, Jordan Reed stepped up and took control of the offense in his freshman season, finishing second in the league with 16.6 PPG and leading it with 9.5 RPG. Yes, he's 6'4".

Reed was a shameless volume shooter, getting his points in a much less efficient fashion than Mansell had (39.9 eFG% to Mansell's 43.5). It's not like Reed had a lot of help, though, so if Mansell's back in form, it'll help out both men greatly.

Senior guard Rayner Moquete and forwards Roland Brown and Alex Ogundadegbe are the only other halfway productive returnees. All three will, however, have to hold off hard-charging freshmen for their starting spots. 6'9" forward Nick Madray canned 53% of his threes at Findlay Prep, where he played alongside studs like Brandon Ashley of Arizona and NBA No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett. Both the Sporting News and Lindy's tabbed Madray as conference Newcomer of the Year. 6'7" Magnus Richards could also see minutes at the 4. Point guards Marlon Beck and Yosef Yacob will put major pressure on Moquete.

Last season's Bearcat offense ranked south of 300 in just about every shooting metric devised by modern man. Coach Tommy Dempsey needs to find some way for his players to become more efficient on offense. The good news is, shooting as bad as last year's is like the sex life of a man who humps a refrigerator: How much worse can it get?


--The Retrievers have tracked down one tournament bid in their 27 Division I seasons. In that trip, they lost by 19 to Georgetown, a regional rival of a slightly larger profile.

Almost as large as the nubian queen who makes DJ Qualls a man in Road Trip.

Much like UMBC, our skinny pal DJ seems a bit overmatched here.
County coach Aki Thomas had to work fast to assemble any sort of solid team, considering he took over the job less than a month before the season began. A couple of key injuries didn't do him any favors, but things could have been much worse.

Forward Brett Roseboro was one of those injuries, missing 12 games with a broken cheekbone. The 6'10" senior fell one basket short of 10 PPG and put up four dub-dubs in his abbreviated season. Frontcourt mate Chase Plummer regressed in his junior year, losing four PPG and four points off his FG%. It's tempting to blame the difficulties on Roseboro's absence, but Plummer actually shot 41% after Roseboro went down, compared to 37% for the season.

Shooting guard Joey Getz was a 50% shooter both overall and from three last year, and he started to find a groove over the season's final month. At the point, senior Quentin Jones and sophomore Aaron Morgan are both quick players with good passing touches, but neither is a shooting threat and both are turnover-prone.

Look for juco forward Davarick Houston to make some plays off the bench. The 6'7" 190-pounder ran a 12.8/8.4 at Chattahoochee Tech last season while blocking nearly three shots per game. Four freshmen, all from the DMV region, could all see time as well.

8. Maine

--The First Turn-On is a Troma flick, which tells us there's terrible acting and pretty miserable production values. Those qualities make it a perfect representation of Maine basketball, a program that has been part of D-I for 69 years (heh heh) with only three 20-win seasons and no stories about tournament action. At least this dipstick and the motley assortment of other losers stuck in the cave have something to talk about, even if the stories may be a bit trumped up:

Fun fact: Madonna auditioned for this movie and was turned down. Those who've seen Swept Away--all six of them--understand perfectly.

Much like the goobers in that eminently forgettable film, Maine has players who struggle to score. AE points-per-game champ Justin Edwards bolted to Kansas State and the team's second-leading scorer left with a year of eligibility remaining for a pro career in Germany. What's left is a group that could surprise us, but hasn't had much chance to impress so far.

Junior point guard Xavier Pollard is the only starter returning. A quick floor general whose range stops short of the three-point arc, Pollard nevertheless ranked third in the America East in A% and did well getting to the rim. If he can make deep shots on a consistent basis, he's a potential All-AE performer. If not, he needs the self-awareness to stop taking them.

Perimeter specialist Zarko Valjarevic took only 17 two-point shots all year, but he made 2.2 threes per game. His 34% accuracy could stand to improve, but he makes a fine kickout option for Pollard's drives. Swingman Dimitry Akanda-Coronel showed flashes--including a season-high 11 points against Florida State--but never found a consistent groove after missing preseason practice courtesy of the NCAA Clearinghouse.

The only other returning rotation players are forward Till Gloger and lanky guard Shaun Lawton. The 6'8" Gloger is the team's best returning rebounding presence, which is not saying much. Lawton, like Pollard, is a slashing playmaker who hasn't proven very effective away from the basket.

Freshmen will have to grow up fast if the Black Bears are going anywhere. Big men Christian Ejiga and Erik Nissen are both tremendous athletes who played three sports in high school. Swingman Garet Beal is a two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year in Maine who posted a sick 22.3/8.7/3.6/3.8/1.6 line as a senior. Coach Ted Woodward needs him to make a thunderous splash the way the departed Edwards did as a rookie two years ago.

9. UMass-Lowell

--The RiverHawks are walking into the AE from Division II, which means they have the typical four-year waiting period to even sniff the postseason. That's exactly like the doofs in this bathroom from Sixteen Candles, who may or may not have been allowed to catch a sniff for an extra 10-spot.

Double-figure scorers Akeem Williams (19.9) and Chad Holley (11.2) return, but the third member of the Hawks' potent backcourt, Antonio Bivins, will be gone for the season with an ACL tear. Besides coming second with 15.5 PPG, Bivins also led the team in steals, blocks and rebounds, pulling down 100 boards more than the nearest teammate.

Sophomore forward Kennedy Chukwuocha was that closest teammate, averaging 3.8 rebounds per game, and he could join with Williams and Holley to provide a potent perimeter attack. All three shot better than 40% from deep last season.

Coach Pat Duquette will have pieces on hand for next season, with Holley a junior and Bivins expected to redshirt and come back in 2014. Reserves Kerry Weldon (injury redshirt last season) and Parris Massey are the only other seniors aside from Akeem Williams. There may be an upset here or there, but Lowell will play out this "just happy to be here" season, develop the underclassmen and try to impress future recruits as best they can.

Albany: Dec. 31 at Pittsburgh
--Hoping to catch Pitt looking ahead to its ACC debut.
Binghamton: Dec. 7 at Syracuse
--Obviously, there's not much entertainment value elsewhere on the schedule. If there was, we wouldn't be praying for a Spinal Tap "get lost on the way to the court" moment in this one. (Dude, the Carrier Dome's a pretty big place. What can we say?)
Hartford: Nov. 12 at Florida Gulf Coast
--Part of the Tip-Off Marathon, this mother's going up at 7:00 AM on ESPN2. A Hawks win would pop the #DunkCity balloon with extreme prejudice.
Maine: Dec. 6 at UConn
--Maine's only real strength is its backcourt. UConn only possesses one of the best in America. Like taking on an army of Terminators with a slingshot.
UMBC: Nov. 26 at Towson
--Roseboro's one of the better big men in the AE, but can he contain the hurricane named Jerrelle Benimon?
UMass Lowell: Nov. 8 at Michigan
--Welcome to D-I, boys. After this, you'll want to go back.
New Hampshire: Nov. 21 vs. Bryant
--Bryant's a potential champion in the Northeast Conference, making it a great home test for UNH.
Stony Brook: Dec. 7 vs. La Salle (MSG Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden)
--Warney nearly put up a dub-dub against UConn and scored 17 against Maryland. He ain't scurred.
Vermont: Dec. 21 at Harvard
--One of those games that will test whether a Crimson team getting top-25 love is getting full of itself near midseason.

"Tell me how my shoe taste."

Mark Nwakamma, Hartford
Jordan Reed, Binghamton
Sam Rowley, Albany
Brian Voelkel, Vermont
Jameel Warney, Stony Brook

Dave Coley, Stony Brook
Evan Cooper, Hartford
Anthony Jackson, Stony Brook
Brett Roseboro, UMBC
Clancy Rugg, Vermont

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
--Only thing holding Nwakamma back is his tendency to foul. This is big faith that Warney will thrive as the primary option.
COACH OF THE YEAR: John Gallagher, Hartford
--Even Hawks legend Vin Baker might want to come buy Gallagher a drink if Hartford wins the title. Would likely just be an Arnold Palmer, though.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Nick Madray, Binghamton
--Dempsey's gotta find shooting somewhere, and we know Madray can stroke it. (And yes, I'm closing a teen-sex-movie-laden post with a masturbation pun. Fitting climax. Okay, I'll stop now.)

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